Native Tribes of Britain.
This is the name of peoples who lived
in the Scottish Highlands and Islands. The Romans used the word Caledones to describe both a single tribe who lived in
the Great Glen between the modern towns of Inverness and Fort William. They
also called all the tribes living in the north Caledonians. We know the names
of some of these other tribes. They include the Cornovii and Smertae who probably lived in Caithness,
the Caereni who lived in the far west of the Highlands,
the Carnonacae and the Creones in the Western Highlands.
The Vacomagi lived in and around the Cairngorns. Other
unknown tribes lived in Orkney, Shetland and the Hebrides. Warriors from many
of these tribes came together to resist the Romans under a leader called
Calgacus at battle of Mons Graupius in AD 84. Although the Romans won this battle,
they never successfully conquered the Highlands. The Romans admired the Caledonii for their ability to endure cold, hunger and
hardship. Tacitus described them as red-haired and large-limbed.
All these tribes lived very different
lifestyles than neighbouring peoples in other parts of Scotland. In many areas
they lived in tall stone towers, called Brochs, or other fortified sites,
called Duns. Unlike the Taexali and Venicones, the Caledones rarely
made religious offerings of fine metal objects.
Little is known about this group who
lived in what is today Grampian, except that the people lived in small
undefended farms and hamlets. They shared much with their neighbours the Venicones to
These low lying and fertile parts of eastern Scotland provide archaeological
evidence for different types of settlement and rituals compared to those of the
Highlands and Islands to the west and north.
Although the Taexali were
defeated by the Romans in AD 84, they were never permanently occupied. Like
the Venicones and Caledones, they lived beyond the
northern most frontier of the Roman Empire; the Antonine Wall.
This tribe lived in what is today
They are a poorly known group which
were made into their own civitas (an administrative units or 'county') in the
Roman Province. There is very little archaeological evidence for the people who
lived in this area before the Roman Conquest.
Like their neighbours, the Novantae,
these peoples probably lived in small farms and did not use coins or have big
The Carvetti might
have been a smaller tribe within the large kingdom or federation of the Brigantes.
This tribe lived in what is today
The Roman army campaigned several
times in the territory of this people, but they were never permanently
conquered and occupied. The archaeological evidence shows that this people and
their northern neighbours, the Taexali, had much in common.
The Venicones were
one of the few groups in northern Britain at this time that buried their dead
in stone lined graves, such graves and cremation burials are very rare in other
parts of Britain before the Roman period.
Archaeologists suspect many Iron Age peoples often practised complex funeral
rituals in which bodies were naturally allowed to decompose.
The Venicones and Taexali also
made offerings of prestigious decorated locally made metal objects in bogs and
lakes, including massive bronze armlets.
Only the Venicones and Taexali wore these
unusual ornaments, which could weigh over 1.5 kg each and were worn one on each
Little is known about this mysterious
tribe except that they lived in the modern region of Kintyre and probably the
islands of Arran, Jura and Islay.
This is the tribe or people who lived
in the central part of Scotland around what is today Glasgow and Strathclyde.
The name of this tribe could be spelt
either as Damnonii or as Dumnonii although
the Dumnonii is also the name of the people who lived in Devon
and Cornwall at this time.
Many tribes in Britain and France at the time of the Roman Conquest shared
similar names which may have been as a result of inter-tribal contact. It
could, however, be coincidence, as people used similar types of names for
themselves such as 'the people of the mountains', 'people of the horn' or 'the
brave people' etc.
The Damnonii were
conquered by the Romans and for many years their territory was occupied by the
Roman army before they retreated further south to the line of Hadrians Wall.
The Novantae were a little
known tribe or people who lived in what is today south-west Scotland.
The people living in this area did
not build massive forts on the tops of mountains, as did the Votandini,
nor did the make many offerings of fine metal objects.
Like their neighbours to the south,
the Carvetii, archaeologists have found little evidence for the
lives of these peoples before the Roman Conquest. They were clearly farmers and
herders, but few of their farms and other settlements have been excavated by
archaeologists so far.
A British tribe of Scotland, the name
is thought to mean 'hunters'.
The Roman geographer Ptolemy places
them in the Southern uplands of Scotland, although it is not clear from the
little evidence we have as to exactly where this people lived. Some scholars
place their location as the upper Tweed Basin, and it is unclear if they were
part of the Votadini.
The Selgovae might
have used Eildon Seat as their principal settlement, but this might have been
a Votadinian site.
Like the Votandini, they
were conquered in AD 79-80 by the Roman army.
The Votadini were a
very large tribe or people that lived in the south east of Scotland. In the
north, their territory started at Edinburgh and the Firth of Forth and
stretched as far south as Northumberland in northern England. It is not clear
where the boundary between the Votadini and the other large
tribe, the Brigantes, was, although it probably frequently shifted
as a result of wars and as smaller tribes and communities changed allegiances.
The Votadini, like
the Brigantes, were a group made up of smaller tribes,
unfortunately the names of these smaller tribes and communities remain unknown.
Archaeologically, the territory of
the Votadini was very different to that of either the Venicones or
the Novantae. Large walls, banks and ditches surrounded most of
their farms and the people made offerings of fine metal objects, but never wore
There are also at least three very
large hillforts in their territory (Yeavering Bell, Eildon Seat and Traprain
Law), each was located on the top of a prominent hill or mountain. The
hillforts may have been used for over a thousand years by this time as places
of refuge and as places for meetings for political and religious ceremonies.
This large tribe was, like the Votandini,
a federation of smaller communities. The name means 'upland people' or 'hill
dwellers'. This name is very appropriate as the Pennines formed the heart of
After the Roman Conquest, the Brigantes were
formed into a very large civitates, or administrative unit that covered most of
Yorkshire, Cleveland, Durham and Lancashire. It stretched from the North Sea to
the Irish Sea. We know the names of some of the smaller tribes they made up
the Brigantes at the time of the Roman Conquest. They include
the Setanti in Lancashire , the Lopocares,
the Corionototae and the Tectoverdi around
the Tyne valley. This huge area was very varied. As well as people living in
the Dales and hills, many people farmed the fertile land in Durham, Tyneside
and Teeside. At the time of the Roman Conquest people in this region wore
swords carried in distinctive local metal scabbards that were highly decorated.
An important centre for the Brigantes was
built at Stanwick in North Yorkshire in the first century AD. This was probably
the capital of Queen Cartimandua who ruled the Brigantes.
Cartimandua was friendly towards the Romans, but her husband was anti-Roman.
The Romans invaded and occupied the territory in AD79.
The Parisi lived in
East Yorkshire. They were a small, but distinctive group of people who farmed
the chalk hills of the Yorkshire Wolds. The Parisi share their
name with the people who lived in France around what is today Paris although
whether both tribes shared strong links is hotly debated. The British Parisi are
known for their unusual 'chariot-burials' and cemeteries.
Unlike other people living in Britain
between about 300 and 100 BC, the people in East Yorkshire buried their dead in
large cemeteries. This was much like the way many peoples in France and Germany
buried their dead at the same time. However, in other respects, the East
Yorkshire Parisi lived in British style houses, wore British
style ornaments and used British style pottery. At the time of the Romans, the
Parisi had stopped burying they dead in this unusual way. However, the carried
on other distinctive styles of life and remained separate from their large,
powerful neighbours, the Brigantes. After the Roman Conquest they
were made into their own small civitas with their capital at Petuaria (modern
Brough on Humber)
The Cornovii are a
surprisingly obscure tribe, given that they lay well within the boundaries of
the Roman province and their civitas capital, Wroxeter, was one of the largest
in Britain. They share their name with a Caledonian tribe who lived in the far
north of Scotland. The name probably means 'people of the horn'. There is no
reason to think that this group shared any common ancestry with the group in
Many tribes or peoples in Europe at
the time of the Roman Conquest shared similar names. This might be because
these tribes had contacts with each other. But it is just as likely to be a
coincidence, as people used similar types of names for themselves such as 'the
people of the mountains' or 'the brave people' etc. The Cornovii never
issued coinage and before the Roman Conquest left little evidence to recognise
them. They probably lived in what are today the modern counties of
Staffordshire, Shropshire and Cheshire.
The Deceangli, the Ordovices and
the Silures were the three main tribe groups who lived in the
mountains of what is today called Wales. However, in prehistory Wales, England
and Scotland did not exist in anyway as distinctive entities in the ways they
have done so for the last 1000 years. The Deceangli were the peoples of what is
today north Wales and probably included the peoples who lived on the Isle of
The Romans considered Anglesey, or
Mona as they and the locals at the time called it, as a stronghold of the
Druids. Because the Druids played an important role in encouraging the recently
conquered Britons to resist the Roman Conquers, the Roman army specifically
targeted Anglesey for destruction. On the eve of Boudicca's revolt in what is
today East Anglia, the Roman Army has only just completed the long and
difficult task of conquering the tribes living in the Welsh Mountains. The
final episode of that conquest was the invasion of Anglesey and the slaughter
of the Druids there.
This group covered much of the
mountains and valleys of what is today mid-Wales. They were the northern
neighbours of the Silures and the Southern neighbours of
Like the Silures and Degeangli,
these peoples lived in small farms, often defended against attack. After the
emperor Claudius invaded southern England in AD 43, one of the main leaders of
the Britons, called Caratacus escaped to the Ordovices and
the Silures. They were stirred into rebellion by Caratacus and for
a long time successfully resisted the Romans.
The Roman general Agricola only
finally defeated the Ordovices in 77-8. The tribe was
incorporated into Britannia and became a civitas (an administrative district).
This large tribe appears to have been
created only shortly before the Roman Conquest of Britain. It offered no
resistance to the Romans and was quickly turned into a civitas (an
administrative district equivalent to a modern county) with its capital at the
city of Leicester.
The Corieltauvi combined
groups of people living in what is today most of the East Midlands
(Lincolnshire. Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Northamptonshire).
Before about 50 to 1 BC, archaeological evidence suggests two different groups
or tribes lived in this region. One lived in what is today Lincolnshire, the
other in what is today Northamptonshire. Both areas were different to each
other and were important centres of population and economy in the period c. 400
and 100 BC.
The Corieltauvi are
known from their coins that are found throughout the East Midlands. This group
appears to have been a new federation that united earlier different groups.
This was a region were people lived in villages, and some times larger
settlements. Leicester was certainly an important large settlement before the
Roman Conquest, as were a number of large settlements in Lincolnshire, such as
Dragonby and Old Sleaford.
This was another tribe that issued
coins before the Roman Conquest. Their coins and other archaeological evidence
shows that the tribe's territory was in the modern counties of Norfolk and
parts of Suffolk and Cambridgeshire. They appear to have been a wealthy and
powerful group of tribes between 200 and 50 BC.
From their territory come the finest
hoards of gold treasure found in Iron Age Britain; the Snettisham torcs. Other
hoards of elaborately decorated bronze chariot fittings point to a love of
conspicuous display by the nobles of the Iceni. This tribe also
shunned contacts with the Roman world and the changes they brought with them
that characterised the life styles of Catuvellauni and Trinovantes at
The Iceni had
important religious centres at Snettisham and at Thetford. But when they were
made into Roman Civitas, the Romans did not choose either of these centres, but
the settlement at Caistor, near what is today Norwich. Was this because
the Iceni led the most successful revolt against Roman rule in
the history of Roman Britain? When the Romans invade southern Britain in AD 43
the Iceni were friendly towards the new rulers. Their king
Prasutagus became a client-king of Rome. But on his death the kingdom was incorporated
into the Roman province and together with other abuses led to the Icenianrevolt
led by Prasutagus' widow, Queen Boudicca.
These were the people who lived in
the fertile lands of Pembrokeshire and much of Carmarthenshire in southwest Wales.
They lived in small farms scattered across the countryside and shared many
features of their lives with their neighbours across the Bristol Channel in
Devon and Cornwall. They were friendly towards the Romans and quickly adapted
to Roman rule, unlike their more warlike and scattered neighbours in the
mountains of Wales; the Silures and the Ordovices.
Because of this the Demetae did
not need to be intensively garrisoned by the Roman army, except along their
eastern border, which may have been to protect them from their hostile
neighbours, the Silures. The tribe was incorporated into the
province of Britannia and became a civitas (an administrative unit, or county,
within the Roman province). The capital of the Roman civitas was at Carmarthen
The Catuvellauni were
the tribe that lived in the modern counties of Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and
southern Cambridgeshire. Their territory also probably included tribes in what
is today Buckinghamshire and parts of Oxfordshire. The tribal name possibly
means 'good in battle'.
The Catuvellauni existed
as a tribe at the time of Julius Caesar, but in the following years became an
extremely powerful group. Their first known king was Tasciovanus, who is known
from the coins he minted with his name on them. He founded a royal and ritual
centre at Verulamium, modern St Albans in about AD10. There were several other
large settlements or clusters of villages in their territory, such as at
Baldock and Welwyn.
Before this time, the Catuvellauni, Trinovantes and Cantiaci were
very different from other British tribes. They had been using coins for at
least a century, adopted the same way of burying the dead as was practised in
northern France, and eat and dressed in ways more common in France than other
parts of Briton. Tasciovanus successors created a large kingdom through
conquest and alliance that included the Trinovantes and Cantiaci.
The most successful king was
Cunobelinus (Cymbeline), but after his death in the late 30's AD, his kingdom was
beset by rivalries between his successors. This was the excuse used by the
Roman Emperor Claudius to conquer southern Britain in 43 AD. The Catuvellauni were
one of the most pro-Roman of British peoples who very quickly and peacefully
adopted Roman lifestyles and Roman rule.
A very rich grave of a
pro-Roman Catuvellaunian ruler who lived at the time of the
Roman Conquest has been excavated at Folly Lane, St Albans. They became one of
the first civitas in the new province, Verulamium becoming one of the first and
most successful cities in Roman Britain.
Several Roman authors including
Pliny, Ptolemy and Tacitus mention this tribe and later civitas (administrative
unit in a Roman province). Their territory was south east Wales - the Brecon
Beacons and south Welsh valleys. A people of the mountains and valleys, we know
relatively little about how they lived.
Like the other tribes of the Welsh
Mountains, they were difficult for the Romans to conquer and control. For a
time in the period around AD 45-57, they led the British opposition to the
Roman advance westwards.
Tacitus describes them as a strong
and warlike nation, and for ten years or more the Romans fought to contain,
rather than conquer them. Although defeated and occupied by the early 60's, their
bitter resistance may explain the late grant of self governing civitas status
to them only in the early 2nd century. The capital was established at a
previously unoccupied site at Caerwent and was given the name Venta Silrum.
Tacitus described them as swarthy and curly-haired, and suggested their
ancestors might be from Spain because of the similarities in appearance with
some peoples in Spain. However, there is no evidence to suggest any genetic
links between south Wales and parts of Spain.
This large tribe lived in the
southern part of the Severn Valley and the Cotswolds and were one of the few
groups to issue coins before the Roman Conquest. The main distribution of these
coins shows that the Dubunni occupied or ruled an area as far
south as the Mendips, and the coins also hint that the group was divided into
northern and southern subgroups.
The Dubunni lived in
very fertile farmland in farms and small villages. They did not resist the
Roman Conquest, unlike their neighbours, the Silures.
Indeed, they may have been one of the
first tribes to submit to the Romans, even before the Romans reached their
territory. The Dubunni had a central or important settlement
at Bagendon in Gloucester, on the eastern edge of their territory. This centre
was replaced by the important Roman city of Cirencester, which became the
capital of the Dubunnic civitas after the Roman Conquest.
The Dumnonii were
the British tribe that occupied the whole of the South West peninsula and parts
of Southern Somerset. They did not use coins, nor did they have large
settlements to act of political centres for the tribe, and there is no evidence
for a dynasty of Dumnonian kings.
The Dumnonii were
probably a group of smaller tribes that lived across the large area of Cornwall,
Devon and Somerset. The people lived in small farmsteads, usually surrounded by
large walls, however, there were also local differences in the types of
settlements and other aspects of life between different parts of Devon and
Cornwall. There is also evidence for contacts and trade with Brittany with whom
they shared similar styles of highly decorated pottery. Cornwall was one of the
few parts of Britain where the dead were buried at this time.
The Dumnonii appear
to have accepted the Roman conquest without resistance and as a result few
garrison forts were placed in their territory, although this area never fully
adopted Roman ways of life.
Life styles and types of settlements
remained little changed from the Iron Age through the Roman period. The Romans
granted them civitas status and the town of Exeter (Isca Dumnoniorum) was their
Centred in Dorset, this people were
also found in southern parts of Wiltshire and Somerset and western Dorset. This
was a people that minted and used coins before the Roman Conquest, but there is
no evidence from the coins or burials for a strong dynasty of kings. Rather
the Durotriges seem to have been a loosely knit confederation
of smaller tribal groups at the time of the Roman conquest. One of these
smaller tribal groups that lived around Dorchester, buried their dead in
A unique feature of the Durotriges at
this time was that they still occupied hillforts. Although hillforts are one of
the most well known features of the Iron Age, most were no longer occupied at
turn of the first millennium. Best known of these Durotrigean hillforts
is that of Maiden Castle near Dorchester, others include South Cadbury Castle
and Hod Hill.
A major trading centre existed at Hengistbury
Head from which cross-channel trade with Gaul was controlled. This may be the
settlement called Dunium by Ptolemy which was located on the border between
the Durotiges and Atrebates. Cross channel trade
was not an important source of goods for the Durotriges, who
preferred local products.
A particular type of pottery made at
Poole Harbour was traded through out the territory of the Durotriges.
At the time of the Roman invasion the Durotriges put up a
spirited, if unsuccessful opposition and they are almost certainly one of the
two tribes that Suetonius records fighting against Vespasian and the 2nd
legion. After the conquest they were made into a civitas with their capital was
at Durnovaria (Dorchester) in the mid-70's. Later a second Durotrigean civitas
was created, administered from Lindinis (Ilchester).
The Belgae were
probably not a British tribe. The Romans applied the name Belgae to
a whole group of tribes in northwest Gaul, but the appearance of a civitas of
this name in Britain is something of a mystery.
According to the Roman geographer
Ptolemy the territory of the Belgae included not only
Winchester but also Bath nearby and an as yet unidentified settlement called
It seems likely that Ptolemy has made
an error here since the resulting shape of the territory of the Belgae would
bear little resemblance to pre-Roman tribal geography and would be something of
an administrative nightmare. If the civitas was actually focussed around
Winchester (called by the Romans Venta Belgarum - 'town of the Belgae')
there is still a problem, since this area seems to have been part of the old
kingdom of the Atrebates.
The civitas of the Belgae was
therefor most probably an artificial creation of the Roman administration, like
the neighbouring civitas of the Regni, and was created at about the
same time in c. AD 80 following the death of King Cogidubnus. Its
administrative capital at Winchester was known as Venta Belgarum, which was an
important settlement before the Roman Conquest.
This is another British tribe that
shares a name with a tribe in pre-Roman France. They were the second most
powerful group in southern Britain at the time of the Roman Conquest, they
issued and used coins, and had many contacts with France.
They probably consisted of a group of
tribes ruled by a single dynasty, their territory originally stretched from
what is today West Sussex, Hampshire and Berkshire.
After the Roman Conquest, their
territory was divided into three separate civitates, one such centre was at the
major settlement at Silchester, near Reading.
Another major Royal centre,
comparable to those at St Albans, Colchester and Stanwick, was at Chichester.
The Atrebates had long links of trade with France and it is
likely that people from the Atrebates were related by married
to people from French tribes. Commas, a French leader from the French tribes
called the Atrebates, fled to Britain during Julius Caesar's
conquests of Gaul. Commius then appears as the name of the Atrebates ruler.
From about 15 BC, the Atrebates seem
to have established friendly relations with Rome, and it was an appeal for help
from the last Atrebatic king, Verica, which provided Claudius with the pretext
for the invasion on Britain in AD 43. After the Roman Conquest, the territory
of the Atrebates was divided up, with Silchester (Calleva
Atrebatum) becoming the capital of a Roman civitas that administered the area
of modern Berkshire, Oxfordshire, Surrey and north Hampshire.
The name Atrebates means
'settlers' or 'inhabitants'.
Like the civitas of the Belgae,
the Regni are not a tribe or people known at the time of the
Roman Conquest, rather the Romans created this civitas (an administrative unit
within a Roman province), possibly around a smaller tribal group that were part
of the Atrebates.
Before the Roman Conquest, the whole
of the territory between what is to today West Sussex, Hampshire and Berkshire
was the territory of the Atrebates, this important kingdom had two
major centres at Silchester, near Reading, and Chichester.
West Sussex was an area with very
strong links to France before the Roman Conquest and was one of the first areas
to use coins and adopt north French styles of cremating the dead.
Between about 10 BC and AD 43,
Chichester became an important Royal centre, on a par with St Albans, Stanwick
or Colchester. This area was very pro-Roman and served as one of the bases for
the Roman Conquest of Britain. The ruler of the area was King Cogidubnus, who
started the great palace at Fishbourne, outside Chichester, after the Conquest.
Because of his help to the Romans,
Chichester at least remained a client Kingdom and not part of the new Roman
province until Cogidubnus' death in about 80 AD. After this time, the territory
of the Artebates was divided up into three civitas, with
the Regni being the civitas centred on Chichester and
administering West Sussex.
This is the name of the tribe or
people who lived in north and east Kent. Like other peoples in southeast
Britain at the time of the Roman Conquest, this group was very open to
influences from France and the Mediterranean World and they eventually became
part of the large kingdom of Cunobelinus.
Like the Catuvellauni and Trinovantes they
buried their dead according to the north French custom of cremation.
After the Roman Conquest they became
a civitas based on their principle settlement at Canterbury.
The Trinovantes are
the first British tribe to be mentioned by a Roman author, appearing in
Caesar's account of his invasion of 54 BC. By this date they seem to have been
already involved in a power struggle with the neighbouring tribes to the west
who were to be forged into the kingdom of the Catuvellauni under
Tasciovanus. This group shared the same ways of life and religious practices as
the Catuvellauni and Cantiaci.
They used coins, cremated their dead,
ate from plates and drank from cups, They became part of the large kingdom
established by the rules of the Catuvellauni.
The king Cunobelinus essentially
absorbed the two tribes into one larger kingdom and he or his predecessors,
established Colchester as a new royal site on the same model as St Albans. It
was Colchester, that became the target for the Roman Emperor Claudius' invasion
After the Roman Conquest, the Trinovantes were
restored as tribal entity in the form of a civitas (an administrative unit or
county) within the new Roman Province. The capital of the civitas was the Roman
city of Colchester, which was originally founded as colony for retired Roman
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